France turns over new leaf with Cuba

By Mashaael Basheer

PARIS, Jan 31 (KUNA) — In its bid to open up to rogue countries that were burdened with sanctions and are recently attempting to reemerge in the international scene, France is turning over a new leaf with Cuba next week.
Charged with enormous industrial and commercial potentials, Cuba is presenting itself to the City of Lights as a promising investment partner, just like Iran did last week during President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the Elysee.
In Cuba’s case, President Raul Castro will be meeting his French counterpart Francois Hollande Monday, marking Castro’s first visit to a European Union member since assuming power in 2006 and the first for a Cuban president in 21 years.
Castro’s anticipated visit will see a marathon of meetings with senior French officials, including Premier Manuel Valls, as well as UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. Cuban Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Ruiz is also to take part in a major business forum.
The Elysee, in a statement, said the visit aims at securing France’s role as the first European political partner in support of the transformation process the Cuban society is currently witnessing, turning it into a more economically sufficient one. The visit is expected to see the signing of 12 agreements.
The statement also noted that bridging the gap between the two countries in terms of drug trafficking and sustainable development would also be of the visit’s agenda most significant items.
Despite Cuba’s weighing debt to France (USD four billion according to latest figures by Paris Club), yet Paris is really keen on cementing its status as a pioneering economic partner to Havana, as it plans to reschedule a portion of the debt and utilize it in an investment fund that allows French companies and development agencies to considerably operate in Cuba.
Last December, France backed a deal to reschedule Cuba’s debt with the Paris Club on the medium and long terms, which would pave the way for Cuba to restore its reputation before international markets.
The US commercial embargo on Cuba did not prevent some 60 French firms to operate there, as France is Cuba’s number four investor after Spain, Canada and Italy.
As for the tourism sector, Cuba is considered of the favorite destinations for French tourists, with 2015 seeing a 30-percent rise, thanks to Castro’s open policy of gradually easing travel and visa restrictions on foreigners.
Also, France is looking forward for a green partnership with Cuba in a bid to implement resolutions regarding the Caribbean region taken during Climate Summit that was held in Paris recently, especially that Cuba will chair the Caribbean union group.
Since 1991, France; a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has been voting in favor of lifting sanctions on Cuba, imposed by the United States in 1962.
Castro’s visit is seen as complementary to Hollande’s, back in May 2015, to Havana after relations with Cuba and the United States were progressively on the path of normalization. (end) mmb.hb